Ubicomp and fun palaces

It’s always hard to start writing when school starts. I slacked last year, I’m slacking this year. But since today, I leave town, I must publish.

My first week of school, I had to turn in a 20 page chunk of my thesis on Cedric Price. If I owe you email and haven’t written, that’s why. It’s going to get blown to bits and greatly reorganized–instead of focusing on modes of mobility in architecture of the 60s and early 70s, I will focus instead on architecture as telecommunication. Need to work on this idea but it came up in my last thesis discussion with my advisor. We’ll see how this works.

In an hour, I start heading to JFK. Then, I fly to Orange County for my first Ubicomp. Tomorrow and Monday, I’ll be taking part in the Exurban Noir workshop. Says the website:

The Exurban workshop seeks to include a wide range of risk-taking urban practitioners that will undertake a two-day active exploration of exurban noir. Whether we like it or not, as urban designers and researchers we are contributing in unknown but significant ways in choosing our future technological urban lifestyles. Are we making it better or worse? For whom? And when? With Orange County, the ultimate in exopolis, as a backdrop, we will collectively undertake this challenge of understanding the relationship between future technology comforts and social discontent.

I’m very much looking forward to taking part in this workshop organized by ken anderson, Anthony Burke, Eric Paulos and Amanda Williams. (Double props to Amanda for making this affordable and for finding me a place to stay, otherwise I would not be attending.) For my part, I proposed an O.C. Fun Palace, a variable kit of parts for leisure ala Cedric Price, but on the vast greyfields of Orange County and its dead mall space. It’s a neat way to bundle up several things I’m working on. Position papers are here.

On the September 27, I’m speaking at nycWireless about my research in India on urban mobile phone sharing.

The next day, I’m off to San! Francisco! for Andrew and Jessica’s wedding. Andrew and I met when I was 15, flirted when I was 17, dated when I was 19, stopped talking when I was 20, became friends again at 23, and have been close ever since. On either side of the Napa wedding, I’ll be in San Francisco, from the 28th-29th, and the 1st to the 4th. I cannot tell you how much I miss the Bay Area. I’ve been there for two days since I moved away. I may also be giving a talk there on my India research… we’ll see how this sorts out.

Web 1.0

Web 1.0

Originally uploaded by douglas.

(School starts tomorrow. I don’t believe that Web 2.0 exists. So this is lovely.)

Douglas posts cards. See a familiar one in there?

I’d peg that at SXSW 99. Or Web 99.

Terra americana

I’m back in the United States, currently in Minneapolis, after 21 hours of some of the most unpleasant travel I’ve ever experienced. I will never fly British Airways again because of their ranging-from-merely-inconsiderate-to-downright-rude customer service agents on the ground at Heathrow, the 2 1/2 hour departure delay due to the airline not completing its paperwork, the lack of preparations they made for people leaving customs 3 1/2 hours late (this due to a broken conveyor belt at baggage claim), and seeing stateside agents be rude to an elderly customer. Thanks to these delays, I missed my flight to Minneapolis and found almost nobody willing to help me–only willing to hand me off to other people equally unwilling and unable to help me.

Thank you Joseph B., a CSR who got me a limo service from JFK to LaGuardia for my Northwest flight to Minneapolis. He, the flight attendant Martin Gillespie, and the cashier at London Heathrow are the only truly polite and kind people I encountered. They were the only ones interested in helping me to find a customer-friendly solution to the flight delays (all of which were caused by their airline and not my actions). In fact, for once in my life, I was at the airport far earlier than was required, a full three hours with online check-in.

By the time I got to Minneapolis, I had been in transit for 21 hours– from London. This is about the same amount of time I needed to get from JFK to Bangalore, with a plane change in London. Unreal. I was grumpy and exhausted, but some spicy chicken wings, with crunchy carrots and celery (my current biggest food cravings, ask Ruth), made me feel better. Then, a substantial night of sleep. I’m still groggy, I’m still not sure where I am when I wake up in the night–last night, I found myself wondering if I had to be up earlier for a train or a flight–but I was safely at my mom’s place, woken in the morning by Skeeter’s visit to my bedside. He sounds like an avant-garde cello concerto. It’s a nice wake-up call.

And I’m now at Dunn Bros. in St. Paul, the original one a few blocks from where I grew up. I pick up Enrique at the airport in an hour. Glad to have a quiet week in Minneapolis before I need to get another plane.

I’m catching up to email and such, and will get back to people later today…

Eine Bücherkette: a chain of books

Every time I go to Düsseldorf, I visit my friend Rudolf’s bookstore, Literatur bei Müller. I’ve been going to the store since it opened, when I was 18. But I’ve been friends with Rudolf since 1993, when I lived in France and would come to visit Düsseldorf. I would go to whatever readings they had and then join the colorful crew afterwards.

But on this visit, things were different. The bookstore has moved. Since 2001, Rudolf and Selinde Böhm (his wife and business partner) have been in discussions with the city of Düsseldorf to do something with the Heinrich Heine Haus, the birthplace of the author. It housed a bar in the middle of the Düsseldorf Alstadt. In February, es war so weit, they were finally there: they opened the new space around the corner from the old, with a minimal selection of books. Having two locations proved difficult. Business was unusually light. They had to pay rent on two locations and support them both with staff. In July, they planned to move to the new location on Bolkerstrasse.

Rudolf said that there were two camps of people about the whole move. Some were against it, “Why move? This place is so cozy.” Others wanted to help. They decided they needed an action, something to take on the offer from help, and to guide the skeptics into the new place.

So they created a Bücherkette–a chain of books–on a warm Sunday morning two weeks back. It’s like a fire brigade with water, only they passed boxes of books. 140 people lined up in the Altstadt. All kinds of people… old friends of the bookstore, cultural luminaries in Düsseldorf, the media, bystanders who wanted to take part.


The very last thing they moved was a gigantic copy of Finnegan’s Wake. That’s what you see in the top corner at the new store.


Ever since this opening ritual, things are going swimmingly for the Buchhandlung. I’ve never seen Rudolf so happy.

The new space is stunning, lovely with its references to the old store but so spacious, so possible to really enjoy the books. Philosophy and theory still hold an elevated position at the back of the store, but now it’s easier to get the lay of the land and see all that there is in the store. And that Andreas Gursky print! But please– visit the pictures I took (including the old ones).

Welcome home, Selinde Böhm and Rudolf Müller! I’ll bet that Heinrich Heine is very pleased to have you.

We’re leaving everything behind

“We’re leaving everything behind,” the blonde haired little girl said in the glass elevator at the Brussels Midi train station. I laughed and made eye contact with her parents.

“That about sums it up,” I said.

I’m adjusting to having left India. I knew I’d have to adjust but I’m surprised at how it’s affecting me. Everything looks empty to me, even though it’s summer travel season. There’s so much empty space, even in a dense city like Brussels. Keller told me this would happen: where are all the people? The colors passing by the train window are the ones I’m familiar with. Everything looks so tidy, clean, sanitized. Everything has its place. I miss the chaos of Bangalore’s traffic (I never expected to say that!), I miss the colors of sarees and salwars and so many different kinds of people.

I do seem to have gotten over the “Hey! White people everywhere!” thing that hit me the first two days. Nobody stares at me for having red hair. I don’t miss that. But I do miss people, already. I miss the MSR contingent, my flatmates, my friends. I wonder whether it’ll be possible to make it back for Doors of Perception in Delhi, but I suspect the timing will be wrong… we won’t be on spring break yet. I’d consider not going to SXSW if it meant I could go to Delhi in March. At least Yashas and Jasmeen will be in the US in the fall. Maybe Abhishek will be convinced to visit graduate programs and stop off to see Zack. But getting a visa is a pain and travel to the States is so expensive.

* * *

Right now, I’m on the train to Düsseldorf, after taking the Eurostar from London. The trains and stations are full of groups of students with backpacks and sleeping bags. My time for that was 15 years ago–the summer of 1991, I criss-crossed Europe, from Stockholm to Italy, meeting up with friends before starting school in the Netherlands. For the first time since 1994, I have a Eurail pass in my bag. No backpack on this go (it’s at Ruth and Erez’s in London)–just my trusty Tumi all beaten up–and a Freitag bag with my laptop.

* * *

I am turning 35 in three months. This has hit me the last few days. Enrique turns 35 next week when we are in Minneapolis, on the 26th. I’m exactly three months younger. 35 is not very young. People seem entirely surprised when they find out that that’s my age. (The nice grandmother at the fabric store on Saturday in Bangalore thought I was the age of her 19 year old granddaughter! Granddaughter and I laughed about that.) My friend Dave, who I saw last night, was 35 when I met him. I thought that sounded older and somehow distinguished. He’s now 41. But I think this is the first birthday I’m freaking out about.

Lillian Dowling, the world was richer with you in it

Last night, my mom gave me the news that Lillian Dowling died on August 15. She was 99. Lillian was my Grandpa Ed’s partner from 1989 till 2004. They never married (though my grandfather had married two other women after my Nana died in 1979–all three of his wives died of cancer and I think he didn’t want a further jinx).

I first met Lillian when I was about to depart for my exchange year in Germany. She was so lively. She was a schoolteacher in Wisconsin who loved theater so much, she’d rent a room in New York during the summers and go to see shows. When she was in her late 80s, she published a book, One of the Boys but Always a Lady, about her experiences as a Red Cross recreation worker in Australia during World War II. The book is hilarious.

I was used to my grandpa’s house changing when he remarried. But with Lillian, it was really something. She was an antique collector. So the suburban Milwaukee ranch house they lived in was filled with marble, oriental rugs, Revolutionary War antiques, ornate wood. Some pieces had come from the governor’s mansion. I would sleep in the Lincoln Bed, which was only produced during the years that Lincoln was president.

I will never forget Lillian and Grandpa Ed dancing together at my cousin Jennifer’s wedding. They were grooving to “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Randy Newman. I don’t think they caught the subtext. And there’s the crazy story of my Grandpa’s 80th birthday, with the fortune tellers. She organized it; I missed it because I was in Germany.

But the thing that she said that meant more than anything was when we met. I was 17, and she was 82. We were discussing theater. She gave me a shoulder rub. And she told me, “I think we’re sisters under the skin.”

Here’s my family at my Grandpa’s memorial. Not the best picture of all of us, but the only one I have with her in it. I’ll miss you, Lillian.

A very uneventful flight

My flight was completely uneventful. I got to the airport at 3 a.m., waited outside for 45 minutes, realized a machine gun was pointed right at me at one moment in line (shudder). I checked my laptop and phone but didn’t need to, and could have brought a book on board after all. British Airways is confused. No surprise there. I nodded off sitting in the bus terminal like waiting room, as Jurassic Park played on TV. Bought a tiny Ganesha figurine for a number of personal reasons. Got on the plane, took an Ativan, slept for six hours.

Now I’m in London, meeting Celia and Dan this evening in the hotel bar of where I’m crashing for the night. As it happens, my best friend is in town tomorrow on a one day pitch! Very convenient to see her here and not to have to wait till I’m back on the East Coast.

First impressions upon entering London: traffic is quiet and orderly. Where are all the interstitial vehicles that dart in and out of traffic? Where did they go?

Next impressions: I need a shower and some more sleep. I’m going to do that.

This is the day

This is what I’ve listened to on repeat since last night. Now that I note the lyrics, I think I see why.

Well… you didn’t wake up this morning —
Because you didn’t go to bed.
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red
The calendar, on your wall, is ticking the days off.
The calendar on your wall is ticking the days off.
You’ve been reading some old letters
You smile and think how much you’ve changed.
All the money in the world couldn’t buy back those days.
You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes,
You watch a plane flying across a clear blue sky.
This is the day your life will surely change.
This is the day your life will surely change.
You could’ve done anything if you’d wanted
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky.
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with the memories
That hold your life together like glue

… and with that, I’m off to the airport..

Bye, Bangalore…

Molly, Departing

Originally uploaded by C+H.

Posted to my friend Chris’s Flickr stream. It’s 1 a.m. and in 90 minutes, I leave for the airport. My flight isn’t until 6:30 a.m. Oof.

On a happier note, thank you, everyone I met in Bangalore! Tonight, a number of people came by… my flatmates Carolyn and Savita, MSR friends Renee, Chris, Paul, and Kentaro, and local design tech mischief maker, Yashas. It was nice to eat cheap Chinese and drink bad beer. Chris snapped this shot shortly before heading out.

Now, I’m kind of killing time. I am largely done packing, amazing for me. Time for me to say goodbye, and see you in London.